DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Philip Morris is never one to be content with what he’s accomplished. That’s why, despite being the two-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion and six-time Late Model champion at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., the 44-year-old Ruckersville, Va., driver isn’t afraid to try something new if it means getting faster.
That’s why, even as he was winning six of the first eight races this season, he partnered with car owner Jim Dean and started experimenting with a new Leavitt chassis. The results were not kind.
“I test drove it a little and really liked it,” Morris said. “It was really fast early – for a quick run. But we found out it would fall off in the race.”
Morris failed to return to Victory Lane between April 1 and July 31, and recorded just five top fives in 11 starts during that time period. A second straight national title was growing more doubtful.
But Morris and Co. hit on something within the last four weeks and it’s starting to pay off.
After grabbing the win at Motor Mile last week, he finished first and second in the track’s twin 75-lap features this past weekend. The hot streak has not only pushed him back atop the standings, but allowed him to put some ground on his nearest challengers with four weeks remaining.
Morris pushed his points total to 829 and now leads Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Conn., by 28 points.
Rocco finished eighth at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway and fourth at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, and was only able to add two points to his total.
Bill Leighton Jr. of Omaha, Neb., was fifth at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., and remains third with 778 points.
Christopher, of Plainville, Conn., won for the fourth time at Stafford. He has six wins and four runner-up finishes in his last 10 starts at Stafford and Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway and is quickly making up for his slow start.
A driver’s top 18 points finishes are counted toward the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national title, as well as U.S. state and Canadian provincial championships.
Joanides, of Woodland Hills, Calif., still has one race to make that 18-race mark. He had a win and a second in twin features in the Super Late Model Division at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) to jump from ninth to fifth. His 43.7 points per race average trails only Rocco (44.5) and Morris (46.1).
With the depth of challengers, Morris knows he turned around his season just in time.
“We had an extreme dry spell there,” Morris said. “We felt like it was what we needed to do to make ourselves better, but we didn’t realize a midseason change like that would have such a negative effect on our points race.”
As he struggled through the early summer months, Morris admitted that some doubt crept in his mind.
It is proving worth it, however, in the end.
“It was a big gamble that’s starting to pay off now,” Morris said. “We’ve been working hard the last two months but haven’t gotten the finishes. Now that we’re getting the results, it’s really pumped up the crew and the fans and my family.
“We’re really focusing and putting in a lot of man hours to win this thing.”
The final points standings are scheduled to be released Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Track, state and province, and the national champion earn invitations to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet in Concord, N.C., Friday, Nov. 13. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion also earns a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to be held at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) Jan. 29-30, 2010.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner will receive two points for every car in the event up to 23 cars. Second place will receive two fewer points, and so-on through the field. For example, if there are 23 cars, the winner receives 46 points, second gets 44 and third 42. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 30 points, second gets 28 and third 26. Race winners receive an additional five bonus points.
National Top 500 NASCAR Point Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 25 9 18 21 829
2 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 37 12 25 28 801
3 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 26 8 24 24 778
4 Ted Christopher Stafford Motor Speedway 23 7 15 20 747
5 Nick Joanides Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 17 11 17 17 743
6 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 21 13 19 19 721
7 C E Falk, III Langley Speedway 20 8 16 17 688
8 Andy Eckrich Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 33 6 27 30 688
9 Matt Buller I-80 Speedway 25 5 11 22 687
11 Jeff Strunk Grandview Speedway 18 2 11 15 664
12 Woody Pitkat Stafford Motor Speedway 23 1 13 18 657
13 Mike Wallace I-80 Speedway 26 1 17 23 651
14 Andrew Kosiski I-80 Speedway 26 2 12 23 648
15 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 25 3 9 14 643
16 Roger Powell Greenville-Pickens Speedway 21 3 18 21 641
17 Les Siebert I-80 Speedway 26 1 12 21 641
18 Frank Deiny, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 16 1 14 15 641
19 Nick Smith South Boston Speedway 24 5 12 16 631
20 Jeff Larson Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 22 6 14 20 628
21 John Moore All American Speedway 23 3 16 20 627
22 Rip Michels Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 17 2 14 16 620
23 Gary Glenn All American Speedway 23 3 12 18 617
24 Duane Howard Grandview Speedway 18 2 10 14 610
25 Steve Robblee Delaware Speedway 15 6 12 13 600